How To Protect Your Skin From Pollution

Around 90 percent of people are now breathing in high levels of pollutants*, so can your skincare arsenal help to protect you against pollution and external aggressors? RHEA CARTWRIGHT consults the experts on the best way to boost our skin barriers


Our skin barrier is the protective yet delicate outer layer of skin that’s made up of lipids (fats, including ceramides) that cement cells together. It works to keep out irritants, pollution and dirt while retaining moisture, but a compromised skin barrier will not function as it should, allowing nasties to enter your system. While no regimen can stop pollutants from penetrating completely, skincare can work double duty to keep you better protected.

Build your first line of defense

Hard-working it may be, but our skin barrier can still be easily compromised, which can lead to sensitivity, inflammation, breakouts and an acceleration of the aging process. “Our skin is a living tissue, not a permanent structure, so it [needs to be] nourished and rebuilt every day,” says professor Augustinus Bader. “Similar to the expression ‘you are what you eat’, your skin is what you do to it.” If your barrier is compromised (which is very easily done), using a nurturing serum will help deliver restorative ingredients to the source, avoiding a downward spiral towards irritation and reaction.

Rethink your cleanser

Over-cleansing and over-exfoliating are the most common ways to damage your skin barrier, as the protective outer layer is stripped of its natural oils. However, certain cleansers leave behind an incredibly thin, protective residue that actually helps support your skin barrier. Augustinus Bader uses his eponymous brand’s own patented TFC8 (Trigger Factor Complex) technology to deliver active botanicals that support cell renewal, while Summer Fridays uses a restorative cocktail of 12 amino acids to support the proteins naturally found in skin.

Master your moisturizer

“Not all moisturizers are equal,” says London-based dermatologist Dr. Sam Bunting, who explains that occlusive ingredients act as a physical barrier to help prevent water loss from the skin’s surface, while protecting your complexion from external irritants. Popular occlusive ingredients found in moisturizers include butters, waxes, dimethicone, silicone and mineral oil. “Shea butter is one of my favorites – it functions elegantly as an occlusive, but also nourishes the skin with fatty acids and antioxidants, and leaves a wonderful finish,” adds Dr. Bunting. “I recommend a cream format that contains a blend of occlusive ingredients to trap water in the skin, plus barrier-repair ingredients to replenish ceramides; seek out shea butter, squalane and niacinamide.” Although suitable for all skin types, drier complexions may prefer Sisley’s Restorative Facial Cream with Shea Butter – a rich-texture offering that will bring instant relief, while normal/combination skins should opt for Rose MD Skin’s Signature Moisturizer or The Nue Co.’s Barrier Culture Moisturizer, which both provide hydration without feeling heavy.

Treat skin to a topcoat

Pollution and soot particles are so microscopic that skincare is unable to keep them out, so using powerful antioxidants is crucial when it comes to neutralizing free-radical damage. Vitamins A, C, and E are all found naturally in our skin, but an extra topical dose is essential. Perhaps best known for soothing sunburn, aloe vera is particularly high in antioxidants, which helps prevent damage from environmental aggressors, says professor Bader. “This powerful humectant is rich in polysaccharides, providing hydrating, calming and emollient benefits while also creating a protective barrier.” Acting as an imperceptible second skin, an antioxidant-packed mist is a handbag essential for on-the-go protection – and Oskia’s Citylife Anti-Pollution Beautifying Facial Mist forms a bond with pollutants to prevent them from penetrating the skin’s surface.

*According to a global study conducted by the World Health Organization in 2018

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